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How to Travel Costa Rica

Many travelers have either visited Costa Rica, or it’s on their bucket list of places to visit. Ticos (the name applied by Costa Ricans) are happy, polite and proud people. Your visit to Costa Rica will be richer and more enjoyable if  you follow a few rules.

1.      Leave your stress and hectic pace at home. Ticos do not focus on timeliness of things to the extent that Americans do. You’re not visiting to keep a rigid schedule. Beyond everything else, be flexible. Dinner may take a little longer to arrive at your table than you’re used to. A hike may last longer than you were planning on. Take your lead from the locals; being laidback will let lead to a more comfortable trip


2.      Speak some basic Spanish. Almost everyone in the tourism trade in Costa Rica speaks English, many fluently. Just a little effort at Spanish shows respect. If you can simply say “gracias” instead of “thank you,” “bueonos dias” instead of good morning, and “por favor” instead of please, you’ll be amazed at the reception  you get. And if you want to learn more Spanish, Ticos are happy to coach you through your struggles. My strongest advise is to leave your embarrassment about speaking Spanish at home. You will make mistakes. Laugh with the locals when they laugh at your attempt. You just might some new friends for your efforts.


3.      It takes a long time to drive from one tourist attraction  to the next. I once encountered somebody from West Virginia, which is about the same size as Costa Rica. They booked a hotel for the entire week they were going to be in Costa Rica, with plans to do side trips to various attractions. Yes, maps may show it’s under three hours from downtown San Jose to La Fortuna. Getting out of San Jose may take an hour, depending on the time of day. You do not want to drive roads at night. Roads are very rough, and there are some precipitous drop-offs you don’t want to experience.


4.      Try local foods, whenever possible. Most restaurants are very familiar with tourists, and our meal preferences. You should try food you don’t regularly eat at home. Casava is one of the top food crops produced worldwide. Many Ticos rely on this crop for their starch. You might see “mashed casava, and you might see “fried casava.” Some country cafes specialize in empanadas, others in outstanding arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). Embrace the flavor differences you experience.


5.      Help stop crooked police. If you get pulled over for speeding, pay the fine. It’s much less rampant than it used to be, but you may get targeted by a cop who will simply tell you he doesn’t need your passport or license, but instead “deme cinco mil colones” (give me five thousand colons.) The only way this practice will stop is if tourists simply demand a ticket.

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